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An expatriate (often shortened to expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than that of their citizenship.
In common usage, the term often refers to professionals or skilled workers sent abroad by their companies. However, it can also refer to retirees and others who have chosen to live outside their native country. Historically, it has also referred to exiles.
These contrast with definitions of other words with a similar meaning, such as:
- 'A person who moves from one place to another in order to find work or better living conditions' (Oxford), or
- 'one that migrates: such as a: a person who moves regularly in order to find work especially in harvesting crops' (Webster's);
The varying use of these terms for different groups of foreigners can thus be seen as implying nuances about wealth, intended length of stay, perceived motives for moving, nationality, and even race. This has caused controversy.
An older usage of the word expatriate was to refer to an exile. Alternatively, used as a verb, expatriation can mean the action of someone renouncing allegiance to their native country, as in the preamble to the United States Expatriation Act of 1868 which says, 'the right of expatriation is a natural and inherent right of all people, indispensable to the enjoyment of the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.'
Some neologisms have been coined, including:
- flexpatriate, someone who frequently travels overseas to work (see below);
- inpatriate, an employee sent from a foreign subsidiary to work in the country where a business is headquartered;
- rex-pat, a repeat expatriate, often someone who has chosen to return to a foreign country after completing a work assignment;
- sexpat, a sex tourist.
As far back as antiquity, people have gone to live in foreign countries, whether as diplomats, merchants or missionaries. The numbers of such travellers grew markedly after the 15th century with the dawn of the European colonial period.
In the 19th century, travel became easier by way of steamship or train. People could more readily choose to live for several years in a foreign country, or be sent there by employers. The table below aims to show significant examples of such groups.
|Group||Period||Countries of origin||Destination||Host country||Notes|
|American retirees||current||United States||Costa Rica|||
|Beat Generation||1950s||United States||Tangier||Morocco|
|Beat Generation||1960s||United States||Paris||France||See Beat Hotel.|
|British retirees||1970s-now||United Kingdom||Costa del Sol||Spain||Arguably immigrants if permanent.|
|British retirees||current||United Kingdom||Dordogne||France||Arguably immigrants if permanent.|
|British Raj||1721-1949||United Kingdom||Princely states||India||Arguably colonists.|
|Celebrities and artists||1800s-now||various||Lake Geneva||Switzerland|
|Film-makers||1910s-now||Europe||Los Angeles||United States||"Hollywood"|
|Shanghai French Concession||1849-1943||France||Shanghai||China|
|Shanghai International Settlement||1863-1945||United Kingdom||Shanghai||China||Preceded by British Concession|
|Shanghai International Settlement||1863-1945||United States||Shanghai||China||Preceded by American Concession.|
|Lost Generation||1920s-30s||United States||Paris||France||See A Moveable Feast.|
|Modernist artists & writers||1870s-1930s||various||French Riviera||France|
|Tax exiles||1860s(?)-now||various||Monte Carlo||Monaco|
|Third culture kids||current||various||various||Includes 'military brats' and 'diplobrats'.|
After World War II, decolonisation accelerated. However, lifestyles which had developed among European colonials continued to some degree in expatriate communities. Remnants of the old British Empire, for example, can still be seen in the form of gated communities staffed by domestic workers. Social clubs which have survived include the Hash House Harriers and the Royal Selangor. Homesick palates still seek out expatriate delicatessens, and drinkers can still order a gin and tonic, a pink gin, or a Singapore Sling. Although pith helmets are mostly confined to military ceremonies, civilians still wear white dinner jackets or even Red Sea rig on occasion. The use of curry powder has long since spread to the metropole.
The number of expatriates in the world is difficult to determine. In 2013, the United Nations estimated that 232 million people, or 3.2 per cent of the world population, lived outside their home country.
Countries whose populations have a high proportion of foreign workers include:
- United Arab Emirates, where the population of Dubai is predominantly composed of foreign passport holders from countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines and the Western world. In 2007, only 20 per cent of Dubai's population were citizens.
- Singapore, where 40 per cent of the inhabitants were foreign-born workers, professionals or students in 2014.
Many multinational corporations send employees to foreign countries to work in branch offices or subsidiaries. Expatriate employees allow a parent company to more closely control its foreign subsidiaries. They can also improve global coordination.
However, expatriate professionals are often more expensive than local employees. Expatriate salaries are often augmented with allowances to compensate for a higher cost of living or hardships associated with a foreign posting. Other expenses may need to be paid, such as health care, housing, or fees at an international school. There is also the cost of moving a family and their belongings. Another problem can be government restrictions in the foreign country.
Spouses may have trouble adjusting due to culture shock, loss of their usual social network, interruptions to their own career, and helping children cope with a new school. These are chief reasons given for foreign assignments ending early. However, a spouse can also act as a source of support for an expatriate professional. Some corporations have begun to include spouses earlier when making decisions about a foreign posting, and offer coaching or adjustment training before a family departs. According to the 2012 Global Relocation Trends Survey Report, 88 per cent of spouses resist a proposed move. The most common reasons for refusing an assignment are family concerns and the spouse's career.
Expatriate failure is a term which has been coined for an employee returning prematurely to their home country, or resigning. One study found that the expatriate failure rate is put at 20 to 40 per cent by 69 per cent of executives with multinational corporations.
Trends in recent years among business expatriates have included:
- Short-term assignments becoming more common. These are assignments of several months to a year which rarely require the expatriate family to move. They can include specific projects, technology transfer, or problem-solving tasks.
- Self-initiated expatriation, where individuals themselves arrange a contract to work overseas, rather than being sent by a parent company to a subsidiary.An 'SIE' typically does not require as big a compensation package as does a traditional business expatriate. Also, spouses of SIEs are less reluctant to interrupt their own careers, at a time when dual-career issues are arguably shrinking the pool of willing expatriates.
- Commuter assignments which involve employees living in one country but travelling to another for work. This usually occurs on a weekly or biweekly rotation, with weekends spent at home.
- Flexpatriates, international business travellers who take a plethora of short trips to locations around the globe for negotiations, meetings, training and conferences. These assignments are usually of several weeks duration each. Their irregular nature can cause stress within a family.
- Increased scholarship and research. For instance, Emerald Group Publishing in 2013 launched The Journal of Global Mobility: The home of expatriate management research.
Expatriate milieus are the setting of many novels and short stories, including works by:
- James Baldwin (Giovanni's Room)
- Paul Bowles
- Anthony Burgess (The Malayan Trilogy)
- Joseph Conrad
- Robert Drewe (A Cry in the Jungle Bar)
- Lawrence Durrell
- F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tender is the Night)
- Ford Madox Ford (The Good Soldier)
- E.M. Forster
- Graham Greene
- Ernest Hemingway
- Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley)
- Henry James
- Christopher Koch (The Year of Living Dangerously)
- W. Somerset Maugham
- Peter Mayle (A Year in Provence)
- George Orwell (Burmese Days)
Films have also been made about the subject, often dealing with issues of culture shock experienced by expatriates. Examples include:
- An American in Paris
- The Beach
- Before Sunrise
- Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
- Carry On Up the Khyber
- City of Ghosts
- Coming to America
- Crocodile Dundee
- Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
- Eat Pray Love
- A Good Year
- A Hologram for the King
- How To Lose Friends And Alienate People
- Killing Zoe
- The King and I
- The Last King of Scotland
- Leningrad Cowboys Go America
- Lost in Translation
- Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing
- Midnight in Paris
- The Moderns
- Mr. Baseball
- The Painted Veil
- A Passage to India
- Sexy Beast
- Straw Dogs
- The Third Man
- The Ugly American
- To Catch a Thief
- Under the Tuscan Sun
- The Wages of Fear
- The Year of Living Dangerously
Television programmes made about expatriate life include comedies, dramas, documentaries and reality series, such as:
- Alien (law)
- Asylum seeker
- Digital nomad
- Domicile (law)
- Economic migrant
- Ethnic enclave
- Existential migration
- Foreign born
- Foreign worker
- Global mobility
- Global nomad
- Human capital flight
- International student
- Migrant worker
- Permanent residency
- Perpetual traveler
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